Home > Dreams of Gods & Monsters(12)

Dreams of Gods & Monsters(12)
Author: Laini Taylor

The Kirin caves.

She had never been back to the place of her birth, home of her earliest life. She had planned to return, once upon a time. It was where she and Akiva were to have met to begin their rebellion, had the fates not had other ideas.

But, no. Karou didn’t believe in fate. It wasn’t fate that had murdered their plan, but betrayal. And it wasn’t fate re-creating it now—or at least this twisted shadow-theater version of it, fraught with suspicion and animosity. It was will.

“I’ll find you a blanket or something,” she told Issa—or started to tell her. But in that moment, something came over her.

Or at her.

At all of them.

A pressure in the lowering mists, and with it a seizure of certainty. Karou shrank down and threw back her head to look up. And it wasn’t only her. All around her in the ranks, soldiers were reacting. Dropping, drawing weapons, spinning clear of… something.

Overhead, the white sky seemed near enough to touch. It was a blank, but there was a rush in Karou’s blood and a thrum like a sound too low for hearing, and then, sudden and looming, fast and massive, pushing before it a wind that flicked the soldiers aside like toys to a tide, something.

Big.

On them and blotting out the sky, fast and past, skimming the heads of the company. So sudden, so there, so huge that Karou couldn’t make sense of it, and when it surged past, it touched her, and the trail of its air-warping weight seized and spun her. It was like an undertow, and the chains of her thuribles flew wild, entangling her, and for that dark spinning instant she thought of the black surface of the water far below, and thuribles splashing into it—souls consumed by the Bay of Beasts, and she fought for control of herself… and just like that was released, adrift in a weird calm of aftermath. Her chains were wound tight and tangled but nothing was lost, and all it took now was a glance to see what it was—what they were, oh. Oh—before the dense white day swallowed them again, and they were gone.

Stormhunters.

The biggest creatures in this world, save whatever secrets the sea held deep. Wings that could shelter or shatter a small house. That was what had brushed her: a stormhunter wing. A pod of the great birds had just glided right over the company, and a single wingbeat from the lowermost had been enough to scatter the chimaera from their formation. Before there was any space in Karou’s head for marvel, she did a frantic accounting of the host.

She found Issa clinging to Rua’s neck, shaken but otherwise fine. The blacksmith Aegir had dropped the bundle of weapons—all of them lost to the sea. Akiva and Liraz were still in their place far ahead, and Zuzana and Mik were up ahead, too, not far, but safely clear of the whiplash from that wingbeat. They looked no worse than mildly ruffled, but thoroughly slack-jawed with the marvel that Karou was still staving off—and the ranks were closing back in, not one of them so stoic as wasn’t gaping after the great shapes already vanished into the haze. Everyone was fine.

They’d just been buzzed by stormhunters.

In her earliest life, Karou had been a child of the high world: Madrigal of the Kirin, the last tribe of the Adelphas Mountains. Amid the peaks the massive creatures ranged, though no Kirin, or anyone else that Karou had heard of, had ever seen a stormhunter so close. They couldn’t be hunted; they were utterly elusive, too fast for pursuit, too canny to surprise. It was believed that they could sense the smallest changes in air and atmosphere, and as a child—as Madrigal—Karou had had reason to believe it. Seeing them from afar, adrift like motes in the slanting sun, she would take off after them, eager for a closer sight, but no sooner would her wings beat her intention than theirs would answer and carry them away. Never had even a nest been found, an eggshell, or even a carcass; if stormhunters hatched, if stormhunters died, no one knew where.

Now Karou had had her closer sight, and it was thrilling.

Adrenaline was coursing through her, and she couldn’t help herself. She smiled. The glimpse had been too brief, but she’d seen that a dense fleece covered the stormhunters’ bodies, that their eyes were black, big as platters and filmed by a nictitating membrane, like Earth birds. Their feathers shone iridescent, no single color but all colors, shifting with the play of light.

They seemed like a gift from the wild, and a reminder that not everything in this world was defined by the everlasting war. She gathered herself in the air, untangling a thurible chain from around her neck, and glided up to Zuzana and Mik.

She grinned at her friends, the pair of them still stunned, and said, “Welcome to Eretz.”

“Forget a pegasus,” declared Zuzana, fervent and wide-eyed. “I want one of those!”

8

BRUISE THE SKY

“More stormhunters,” said the soldier Stivan from the window, stepping aside for Melliel.

It was their cell’s only window. Four days they had been in this prison. Three nights the sun had set and three dawns risen to illuminate a world that made less and less sense. Bracing herself, Melliel looked out.

Sunrise. Intense saturation of light; glowing clouds, a gilded sea, and the horizon a streak of radiance too pure to look at. The islands were like the scattered silhouettes of slumbering beasts, and the sky… the sky was as it had been, which is to say, the sky was wrong.

If it had been flesh, one would say it was bruised. This dawn, like the others, it was revealed to have set forth new blooms of color overnight—or rather, of discolor: violet, indigo, sickly yellow, the most delicate cerulean. They were vast, the blossoms or bleeds. Melliel didn’t know what to call them. They were sky-filling, and would spread by the hour, deepen and then pale, finally vanishing as others took their place.

It was beautiful, and when Melliel and her company were first brought here by their captors, they assumed that this was just the nature of the southern sky. This wasn’t the world as they knew it. Everything about the Far Isles was beautiful and bizarre. The air was so rich it had body, fragrance seeming to carry in it as easily as sound: perfumes, birdcalls, every breeze as alive with darting songs and scents as the sea was with fish. As for the sea, it was a thousand new colors every minute, and not all of them blues and greens. The trees were more like a child’s fanciful drawings than they were like their staid and straight cousins of the northern hemisphere. And the sky?

Well, the sky did this.

But Melliel had gleaned by now that it was not normal, and neither was the stormhunter gathering that grew by the day.

   
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